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Lighting Some Flames towards conlang artistry

From:Jim Grossmann <steven@...>
Date:Wednesday, March 13, 2002, 6:45
Hello, all,

1.      Though scientific theories are necessary for doing science, esthetic
theories are not necessary for creating art.  Furthermore, the definition of
art is problematic.  Therefore, I see no value in attempting to create a
consensus about what constitutes an esthetically satisfactory conlang.

2.      Since conlangs tend to be idiosyncratic, and tend to assert their
creators' individuality, I see no point in dividing the list into "schools."
Labels like "naturalistic," "exotic," and "logical" should be seen as points
on a continuum, not pigeonholes in which conlangers should feel confined.

3.      Criticism needs to do more than rate conlangs by some arbitrary standard
of goodness or badness.  It should give us insight into each conlang on its
own terms.   Why not use the author's aims as the implicit standard, and
then criticize on the basis of whether the author accomplished the aims?

question one:

What was the conlanger trying to accomplish?

question two:

Did the conlanger accomplish it?

question three:

What forms of discourse can the conlang be used for in its present

question four:

Is the presentation clear?

4.      Questions like these implicitly recognize the validity of all the forms
we see on this list, while providing a basis for suggesting improvements.

Suppose Fred writes a grammatical sketch for a faux romance language.

questions one and two:   Based on these questions, we might suggest that
Fred remove the sophisticated system of phonemic tone.  We might also check
phonologies and word etymologies in the examples, even if the sketch need
not explain these details.

question three:   In a grammatical sketch, the target form of discourse is
presumeably a range of examples that illustrate the basic grammar.  (IMO,
full-blown reference grammars are needed for myth cycles and diaries.)  If
the presentation and examples describe only agent-action-patient, the sketch
is most likely not detailed enough.

question four:   If the sketch contains only examples, and little or no
presentation, it deserves some criticism.   For a sketch, excessive detail
is also a hazard:  a sketch with one page on core grammar and ten pages on
the allomorphs of the word for "doorknob" most likely needs re-working.
Accuracy in presentation is as important for a sketch as it is for a
full-blown reference grammar.

5.      But suppose Fred says "I LIKE sketches of faux romance languages that
happen to have lots of phonemic tones and many allomophs for its word for
'doorknob,' and I think that the reader should savor the mystery of my
corpus of examples, rather than have the mystery destroyed by lucid

This does not present a problem for either the critic or creator.  Criticism
represents freedom of speech;  the decision to heed or ignore it represents
freedom of thought.  Personally, I think people want more criticism,
provided that it is constructive.

6.      There has been a dearth of criticism on this list.   (I admit it:  I
wimped out on Johnathan's Telona project:  his notes are still waiting on a
disk for me to peruse and respond to.   I hope to find the time to come back
to them.)

But, frankly, I think the idea of scheduled criticism is a bit too
regimented.  (I was about to use a more Freudian term.)

May I suggest a tag on the subject heading, by which people invite listers
to critique their work?   The CHAT and OT tags work well for their purposes.
May I suggest that HELP at the beginning of the subject heading be used to
invite listers to critique conlang material?   PLEASE CRITIQUE is lengthier,
but more descriptive.

Jim G.*


Dirk Elzinga <dirk_elzinga@...>
Garrett Jones <alkaline@...>proposed conlang database
Bob Greenwade <bob.greenwade@...>